Questions of Love
Martin couldn’t resist puzzles and quizzes so when he found that the plane’s entertainment system included a quiz that you could play against people in other seats he had to give it a go. Safety announcements, taxiing and take off seemed to take forever leaving him exasperated by the time he was able to start his favourite pastime.
Most of the questions weren’t very difficult and Martin wasn’t surprised to find that he’d won. The screen showed a list of the other players and he saw that the person who had come second was sitting in the same row as him except that they were both in window seats on opposite sides of the plane. He leaned forward and looked across to where a woman was also leaning forward and looking towards him. They acknowledged each other with a little wave and then settled back again. There was a ping in his earphones and his screen lit up with the words “You have a message from seat 23K,” and so he did. His fellow quizzer introduced herself as Seri returning home to Singapore from a trip to London. That’s pity he thought. He was getting a flight to India after they arrived in the UAE. For hours they messaged other each using the in-seat phones until Martin felt that they were soul mates.
He thought back his girlfriend Nicola 30 years before and how at university they had sent each other hand written letters. It was painfully slow, but it had one advantage that each envelope contained a small swab of cotton wool soaked in perfume mixed with her own bodily scent. They still hadn’t invented a texting system that could do that.
Seri and Martin sat across the table from each other in an elegant airport café both of them captivated. Martin reached over and touched her hand. For a moment she looked at kindly at him and then pulled her hand away.
“No,” she said, “I’d like this to carry on, but we have to agree that it’s only for today.”
“It’s all very ‘Brief Encounter’ isn’t it,” he said. Seri looked puzzled, not picking up on the reference but she could see that he reluctantly accepted that they would both have to disappear into the night, never to meet or contact each other again unless fate willed it. As they talked Seri doodled on the menu card that she had taken from the plane surrounding the writing with flowers, leaves and insects.
“Will all remaining passengers for flight 729 to Singapore please go immediately to gate 24 or we shall off load your luggage.”
“Sorry, that’s it,” said Seri briefly kissing Martin on the cheek. Why not take my menu card as a souvenir?” Then she walked away without looking back. Martin studied the artwork and noticed that one of the flower stems zig-zagged untidily down the page linking a series of numbers and letters with circles round them.
Seri felt guilty than she’d gone against their agreement by giving Martin her phone number. She had disguised it, but he would be sure to work it out. Then as she approached the gate she pulled her boarding pass out of her pocket and noticed a business card fluttering to the floor.